Trapped In Azeroth

Video games are escapism. Some may disagree with that statement, and they are free to say as much on their own blogs, but here I am Bob fucking Barker and I decide who goes home with the turtle wax. I imagine that such a sentiment can seem confusing. To the untrained eye it would appear that I'm writing off my own area of expertise. We have been conditioned to avoid the term, to fear it's negative connotations if applied to anything relevant to our interests. My high school required us to bring our own books from home and read them during institutionalized quiet time. Some teachers wouldn't let us bring in fantasy or sci-fi books, chanting in monotone that “reading should be for reading, not for escapism”. By the time I finished explaining all of the flaws and fallacies in that argument, so much time would have progressed that you would no longer get any of my pop culture references. Although that suggests you get them now. I think that's what hell is. Going around making witty references about Billy Corgan that nobody understands but they laugh anyway because they don't want to seem rude.

There are many other examples of our cultural aversion to escapism, ranging from the dreaded “sci-fi ghetto” of television to bedtime stories of the Jews controlling the media to make us complacent enough to rule (if you're reading this, I miss you Grandma <3). We avoid the term, like that guy who gives away Chick Tracts at Mid-Terms, but all fiction is inherently escapist. That's like, kinda the point of fiction, isn't it? We should embrace escapism. Take it out for dinner and even spring for dessert. Because life is brutal. Like the blackest black times infinity. It's cruel, unfair, and absolutely none of us will make it out alive. I have a college degree. I recycle. I keep up on current events, even those that do not directly effect me. I know HTML and occassionally remember to feed my roommate's cat. All in all, I'd say I'm a winner. And yet despite all my virtues I get exactly the same amount of say on human rights as someone who wears magical underwear and believes that childbirth is woman's punishment for eating a pomegranate. If I reflect on that for more than 25 seconds at a time they will find me on Rick Santorum's property, dressed in carboard wielding a wiffle ball bat that I've painted silver so it looks more menacing, foaming at the mouth and humming the theme song of DuckTales. Knowing the differences between Castlevania 2 and Castlevania 3 is a small price to pay for my sanity.

So yeah, video games are great. Because they allow us to be people and do things that would be impossible due to the real world, due to physical and moral limitations, science, or a lack of hair product. Video games allow a tough-talking coward to be a sociopathic space marine, a skeptic to fight hordes of demons, and for a young lad of 10 winters to express his repressed femininity. Don't think I didn't see that look on your face? “Ugh, what is her point?” Well chow down on this, Emeril, because this one's a doozie. I understand that I phrased it clumsily, but I could not think of a way to say “I used to play video games and pretend I was a girl” without it sounding problematic or riddled with binary. I'm a shit-stirrer by nature. Before I joined the LGBT community, I was that kid who would plug my ears and chant excerpts from the Communist Manifesto whenever I walked by the College Republicans booth on campus. I don't know how to be unoffensive. So when I say “video games allow a boy to be a girl, and vice versa”, please know that I mean no phobia, and that I'm on your side, whether you like it or not, mother muchacho.

I haven't played it in years but I still remember all of Chun-Li's special moves for Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. I entered my first Smash Brothers tournament, and made it to the finals, as Princess Peach. I have played Sailormoon RPG although I will never admit to saying it aloud for fear that doing so will launch my otaku friends into a chant of “One of us! One of us!” Before I had mustered the courage/gall to come out to myself and others as transgendered, I played the female characters in all my favorite games as a, well, looking back I see it as a desperate cry for help, but I imagine back then I saw it as a subtle expression of my interest or curiosity in living the female role, not that I know at all what the fuck that even means. And for once, I'm not the only one. Many trans women that I've confided this to over the years have reciprocated the notion. Like good 8 out of 10, easy. Admittedly, my data pool is a little biased; I tend to seek out nerdy femme trans women like myself because that's also my dating preference and I like to have my cake and sleep with it, too. We're a subculture of a subculture. Hardcore Gamers > People Who Admit To Being Hardcore Gamers > Trans Women Who Admit To Being Hardcore Gamers. Let me know when you've worked that one out, Pythagorus.

And for every trans person who reads this and says “well, that's interesting...this doesn't relate to my life but it's intresting” there's at least 500 cis people who would read this and go “what the fuck is this chick talking about...I only play Chun-Li because she can bounce off the side of the screen...and Lara Croft is hot, anyways”. And that's okay! Not everyone who makes a WoW character that's not their current identified gender has to use it to “express themselves”. That's the beauty of escapism! You can just be doing it for escapism's sake! Wheeeee! If I may be serious for a minute, I would like to point out that this mega informal study that I've performed on my social circle is not meant to suggest that trans men do not experience a similar phenomenon. While I don't mean to exclude you, I'm also an idiot who often talks like she knows shit when she really don't. If you are a trans men who liked playing as Ryu or Chrono, I would love to hear your story. I'll even post it as a comment on this article post. Because I love everyone. Group hug.

As a Discordian, I try to view every situation as a Schroedinger's Cat; it both is and isn't, simultaneously. On the one hand, it's great to have girl characters in video games because it allows those of us born into one gender to vicariously experience being the other. On the other hand, having girl characters in games is cool because not every game needs to be a sausage fest. If I wanted to be left with the choice of “testy guy with way too many muscles who's mom didn't love him enough” and “testy guy with way too many muscles who's mom didn't love him enough with bleached hair” I'd sign up with a local fight club and be featured on a History Channel only three people will watch all the way through. It's okay to play as Ruby Heart because she's the kind of girl you wished you could be. It's also okay to play her because she's fast and has that special attack just comes out from the ground and hits your opponent when they least expect it, like a two year old who's just learned to punch you in the groin.

Those of us who play “against our gender” are issued rations of harassment and other bullshit. I've been called the f word more times than Tom Cruise, though I'm as proud a lesbian as Wonder Woman (no, I don't get to say the word, reappropriation doesn't work like that. So stop it, girl who spells dyke with an “i”). But with online gaming, the culture has developed an odd double standard; if you're really a human (or Glenn Beck) you can be gnome, but if you're gender A it is not okay to play as gender B. There is this unwritten expectation that gamers be “themselves” online, and there can be consequences for playing against your gender. Speaking from experience, I gave World of Warcraft a try in my pre-”out” years. I made a girl character and met up with some friends I knew in the meatspace and joined their guild. For like a week and a half. One of my friends pronouned me during a raid and I was booted by the guild leader. When I asked my friends to appeal on my behalf, they both nonchalantly said “just make a boy character and they'll probably let you back in”. I hope I am the only person to ever experience this. Because if such an incident was ever repeated I would be tempted to walk up to my good twin and shake their hand, causing the world to annihilate in contradiction. But I have in the past heard of similar monkey shit being thrown at people for playing against their gender, either on WoW, Second Life, Xbox Live or even tabletop RPGing. And this is stupid. Not only because it deprives people who would otherwise not have a chance to explore their gender expression of the opportunity, and also because it's a fucking video game, and you're stupid for trying to make it out to be anything more than that.

One MMORPG is going the extra mile by enforcing webcam tests to prove a player's gender, to cut back on “gender-bending cheaters” and give female players “more respect”. Now, those of you who actually clicked on the link and actually fought your way through the jungle of bad grammar and spelling mistakes armed only with your machete of tolerance for internet English will scoff at me and go “Jetta, that's China. This is AMERRKUHHHH. We don't do that here.” I would respond by reminding you that we all (WE ALL), have at least one friend who's met their current partner or is currently seeking out a partner through an MMORPG. And you would be speechless. And I would hold you and tell you it's okay, that this happens to everyone, and that I still think you're very pretty and smell good. Online gaming has become just another social networking site, and for every girl like me who gets three e-mails a day from strange men no matter how big she writes “NO MEN” on her OkCupid profile there's a girl (or boy playing a girl) trying to politely rebuke the advances of a very saucy saucy blood elf. It is not as far fetched a scenario as your optimism may seem.

Right now, there is someone in America who works with or devotes much of their “civilian” life to an MMORPG who thinks that this is a great idea, and that American games should give it a test run. Perhaps not WoW. Perhaps not, I dunno, I don't know any other MMORPGs because I spend all my looking at erotica and routinely updating my facebook so my mother does not think I spend all my time looking at erotica. But it could happen. And it will be bullshit. Because it's bullshit now.

It's discriminatory (although nobody's holding China to any human rights standards), and it just defeats the spirit of gaming. Gaming is escapism. It is opening the window of your predictable, brutal life and inhaling some whimsy and inspiration. Maybe some of us who play Halo might will never be space marines. Maybe some of us who play Fire Pro Joshi or Super Fire Pro Wrestling Queen's Special will never one day be female pro wrestlers. Who cares? We don't have to be ourselves. Most of us can't even be bothered to be ourselves while we're in the meatspace interacting with other bags of mostly water. So maybe this article isn't targeted or tailored to you, my audience. You don't need to be reading this, because you already know. I would hope that being able to read months of my drivel without finding me and beating me half to death with an NES light gun would have endowed you with enough sensitivity and awareness to know that you shouldn't player hate on people who play against their gender. But fuck, some people need to be told this, and I can only shout at so many people per day before the police are called.

Unsurprisingly, I'm torn over feelings about this issue. On the one hand, I feel that this is an important and necessary phenomenon, and we should take down some names and make some bar graphs and that every liberty should be secured so that those who want to use video games to express their gender in the future should be allowed to do so without having to take webcam pics or have triggering hate speech thrown at them at comic cons. On the other, fuck it, they're video games. It's escapism and nothing more and nobody should be making such a big deal about people playing “against their gender” because it's just a fucking game and if you feel yourself troubled or vexed or even disquieted because some girl character in your clan or server is played by a boy then you have bigger issues to be worrying about, like how you're going to pay for that therapist who's going to help you realize how your hatred and bigotry is merely an extension of your insecurity and feelings about how you were raised, or something. So stop it! Let people play whoever and whatever they fucking want.

So yeah. That's how I feel about that.

In other news, for those of you who have asked, therapy is going well, and I'm being referred to a pyschiatrist. So soon I will be able to combine my love of crying about my problems to people obliged to listen with taking drugs. Sorry. I'm using humor again to deflect my feelings again. I'm working on this. In therapy.

Since I still have you on the horn, and my next article is due to go up around Christmastime, I would like to invite all of my readers, even those who don't comment, to ask/suggest/request the topic of my next piece. I'll even do another FAQHag and just answer your geek-related questions, if that's what you wish. For those of you who think “oh, you're gonna write an article for me...how...lame of a gift”, I will remind you that this year I'm giving loved ones poetry, some of whom will undoubtedly wish they had received a four-page treatise on the homoerotic themes of He-Man instead. So pick your battles.

Stay classy. Remember, what happens over the rainbow, stays over the rainbow.

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